Reviving The EDOWA State of IBB's Dream


Professor Omo Omoruyi, PhD, mni
former Director-General, Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS)
Presidency, ABUJA. Now Research Fellow, African Studies Center
Boston University, Boston


Subject: STAR ARTICLES: Omoruyi on EDOWA and Ayomike on "Between opportunity and death (Part 1)"
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 18:54:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Mobolaji E. Aluko" <maluko@scs.howard.edu>
To: The Warri Group <Bawo_Ayomike@freddiemac.com>, feporben@unity.ncsu.edu,
impexma@online.no, inatufe@NRCan.gc.ca, inik@uhura.cc.rochester.edu, Andrew Edevbie <kevtrics@juno.com>, "Mobolaji E. Aluko" <maluko@scs.howard.edu>, omenyi@hotmail.com, oyibo@aol.com, pikomi@gmu.edu, ppekeh@acsu.buffalo.edu, scottemu@pilot.msu.edu

I do not wish to start a new debate about state creation. But the recent dilemna facing the Itsekiri made me revisit the project of the former President, General Ibrahim Babangida for meeting the cherished need for survival wihin Nigeria now facing the Itsekiri sons and daughters. This should not be so. The Itsekiri of the Delta have a right to a place the can call their home having been signatory to various Treaties of Protection with the British Colonial agents in the 19th Century, which should have formed the basis of amalgamation in 1914. The successor regime called the Federal Government of Nigeria owed it to the Itsekiri after independence the same protection guaranteed them by the British government up till the time Nigeria was granted independence on October 1, 1960. The Itsekiri and their traditional institutions were provided for in the original constitution before and after independence. What has been happening with the military intervention in politics is that the Itsekiri, like all groups, who have no representation in the commanding heights of the armed forces, were not provided for in the political order.

Part of the Itsekiri problem is that the Itsekiri leaders have not been able to cope with the "crisis of identity" which faced the group since the time it became obvious that the British protection was on the wane. At one time they claimed some affinity with the Yorubas of the Ijebu stock. Of course, this made them the natural followers of the ruling political class in the Old West Region. The Itsekiri political leaders have been  wrestling with this identity crisis since independence until the present King (Olu) had to resolve it in his mind as soon as he became King. Hence in 1991 he resolved that the Itsekiri belong to their "kith and kin", the Binis. He urged on his people to change course. He made a bold move that his people, the Itsekiri, should share a common future with the Binis, their kith and kin, werherever they were to go in the planned state creation. He did not end there: he made this view known to his older brother, the Oba of Benin, I was told. What was the attitude of the Oba of Benin? Did the matter come before the Benin people? I was told that the Benin monarch was coll towards this plan. Why was he cool towards the plan? But the Olu with his Chiefs nevertheless persisted in his determination by descending on Abuja in full force and confronted General Babangida with his plan. I knew as of fact, even though it was not in the public knowledge that General Babangida saw with the Olu with his chiefs including the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin. They both agreed that the Itsekiri should be joined with their kith and kin in the proposed Edo State in order to save them from ethnic cleanshing that was in the offing then. President Babangida at the end of that meeting assured the Olu and his Chiefs that the wishes of the Itsekiri people would be met.

This is not a breach of state security because we are all concerned with how to make sure that all groups in Nigeria are allowed to live in peace. I decided to speak out when I discovered that some Itsekiri leaders are reassessing their future in view of the current dilemna in which they found themselves. Itsekiri found themselves unable to cope with the complicated ethnic configuration of the Delta State on the one hand and with the war of ethnic cleansing in the politics of hysteria characterizing Warri on the other. Some are in fact thinking of joining some groups in Ondo State. This is running away from the reality of their origin, thus compounding their future.

ALl the Kings of the Itsekiris are direct descendants of the Oba of Benin and by extension the Itsekiri should have that home where the Binis are. I am taking up this matter as a Bini person of the EDO ethnic nationality. That the Itsekiri people's home cannot be in the present Delta State with headquarters in Asaba is my plea and that the home of the Itsekiri is in the present EDO State. How was this approached in the past? This is the subject of the paper.

What I wish to do in this note is dwell on the notes I took during the state creation exercises. A confession will be in order here: I developed for and with military President General Babangida the rationale for states and the location of the Headquarters as growth pole during the 1991 state creation exercises. One of the rationales for embarking on the exercise was to provide "homes" for many ethnic nationalities, who were autonomous during the advent of the white man and were treaties-sigining states with the colonial rulers. The second was to stop the "ethnic cleansing" going on in different parts of the country. They are still valid today, as they were in 1991.

I recall the effort of the former President, General Ibrahim Babangida, to resolve the "ethnic cleansing" in various parts of the Niger-Delta and in the country. Ethnic cleansing is still going on in the Niger-Delta. This is not Yugoslavia; this is Nigeria. and something should be done before it gets out of control. Is it too late to resolve the matter through boundary adjustment and through the creation of local government areas? This is the reason for revisiting an aspect of the decision which General Babangida wanted to take in 1991, but reneged for reasons which he would have to explain in his memoir.

President Babangida was appalled by what was going on in the Niger Delta involving the Itsekiri and he desperately wanted to do something about it.How did he want to resolve it? Can we revisit the solution, which he had worked out with the Itsekiri people as to how their future could be secured in Nigeria?

The former President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida had wanted to implement a radical policy to resolve the Itsekiri problem in the NIGER DELTA. He wanted to excise the old Warri local government area from the old Delta Province and make it form part of the project Edo State to constitute a new EDOWA state, a combination of EDO and WARRI.

I recall that the measure was approved in the first day's meeting of the Armed Forces ruling Council (AFRC) on the strong plea of the President that the Itsekiri need a place they could call "home" like other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Why did the President renege on the plan later? I hope he would reflect this in his memoir later. Bur for the reasons which are still unclear to me and I am sure to the Bini people, the measure had to be reversed later. Was it by the AFRC or by the President?

What I noticed then was that after the AFRC's approval, there was an organized but not a spontaneous outburst of the Bini Chiefs opposing the plan. I was surprised that the Benin Traditional Institution led by the late Iyase of Benin, Chief SO Ighodaro, held a rally made up of Bini Chiefs and denounced the plan. The Benin traditional Institution followed this organized outburst with a protest letter to the President voicing objection of the Benin people as they knew it to the plan. They were said to be speaking on behalf of the Binin and certainly not of the Edo people even though no one in Benin during that period was consulted about their opposition to the inclusion of the Itsekiri people in the projected Edo State to constitute the EDOWA state. They did not consult anybody and even me in the Presidency who was in a position to know the rationale for the plan and how it would be advantageous to the Bini or the Edo people.

How General Babangida came to the decision to have EDOWA State can still be revisited. I was privy to the rationale behind it. I worked on it for the President and I put the memorandum together for the AFRC meeting. Like all the other states that were created then, the projected EDOWA state was based on sound principles, which were:

1. the wishes of the Itsekiri traditional institution and leadership, who had met the President and expressed their wish after a thorough review of the situation in the area that they would like to join their "kith and kin" in the old Bini Kingdom.

2. The independent thorough reveiw of the ethnic affinity between the Edo especially the kingdoms of Binis and the Itsekiri;

3. the contiguous nature of the Old Warri local government area through Koko area and the two local government areas of Oredo and Ovia;

4. the need to save the Itsekiri from the "ethnic cleansing" that was going on then in the Warri area;

5. the need to ensure the economic viability of the "residue" after the creation of the Delta State, because the President was not under any illusion that what was left after the creation of the old Delta State was not a viable proposition.

The foregoing reaons are still valid today and they could still form the basis for revisiting the matter. I know that President Babangida still considered the Itsekiri problem as one of the issues which he could not solve before he was overwhelmed by the political crisis in 1993. Why did he flip-flop? I wish the new administration would revisit the matter.

In the light of the above argument, is it late? I do not think so. Justice is never too late.... I still believe that General Babangida ought to have made do his commitment to the Itsekiri Traditional Institution and leaders, which he freely reached after his meeting with the Olu of Warri and his Chiefs at Abuja, because it was the right thing to do. It is still the right thing to do and sincerely urge on the incoming administration to do some thing as part of the lingering issues facing the administration.

Professor Omo Omoruyi
June 29, 1999

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